Ivory Coast checkpoints cost millions a year: business


Racketeering by “mafia” police and soldiers at roadblocks in Ivory Coast has hiked transport prices to amongst the world’s highest and costs business up to $600 million a year, the Chamber of Commerce said.

Chamber of Commerce President Jean-Louis Billon told Reuters in an interview that the rackets had been a major cause of rising living costs in the West African country and landlocked neighbours who depend on its ports for trade.

Military and rebel checkpoints sprang up across Ivory Coast after a short 2002-2003 war divided the world’s top cocoa grower, once seen as one of Africa’s most stable for business.
“The impact is huge. They are slowing traffic and have raised the cost of transport to the point where we have the most expensive in the world,” Billon said.
“We’re talking 150-300 billion CFA francs (around $300-600 million) a year,” he added.

An official in Ivory Coast’s Defence Ministry told Reuters racketeering was illegal and was being tackled.

The government periodically culls some of the checkpoints that enrich men with guns at the expense of everyone else, but they remain a common sight in the main commercial city of Abidjan — except when tropical rainstorms dampen their appeal.

Checkpoints persist

Government and rebel checkpoints have persisted despite a 2007 peace deal meant to pave the way for post-war elections.

Those elections, originally meant to take place in 2005, have been delayed indefinitely after President Laurent Gbagbo dissolved, then reformed the electoral commission in Feb, after accusing its former boss of adding names to the voter roll.

Billon suggested efforts to tackle racketeering were half hearted because even senior officers benefited from it.
“It’s not just those guys you see on the street who are guilty. It goes right up to the administration,” he said. “It’s a real mafia. They have to stop it.”

An officer in the Defence Ministry who declined to be named said efforts had been made to make police and soldiers more aware of corrupt practices and in some cases punish them.

Billon gave the example of charcoal, which is bought where it is made 80km (50 miles) from Abidjan at 3000 CFA francs ($1.50) but costs four times as much – 12 000 francs in the city. With no checkpoints, it would cost a third of that.
“The roadblocks are the principal reason for the dearness of goods,” he said, adding that government programmes aiming to “sensitise” security forces were wasted with no enforcement.

Billon said many potential foreign investors were still holding back until elections restore normalcy but the country remained a bright investment prospect on the continent because of its relatively large, developed economy, despite years of crisis.

Pic: Ivorian troops

Source: www.af.reuters.com